International Team of the Week

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistNovember 4, 2013

International Team of the Week

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    The November internationals were given a blockbuster opening this weekend as England and Australia entertained with a closely fought Twickenham fixture.

    Stuart Lancaster's side reacted well in their first Test of the autumn period, beating the Wallabies 20-13 in a fixture that produced mixed results for some of those less experienced.

    However, Ewen McKenzie's men weren't the only ones to experience disappointment as Japan succumbed to an experimental New Zealand outfit.

    While the All Blacks see a bump in numbers thanks to their quality of opposition, see who else ranks among this week's finest international performers.

1. Front Five

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    Loosehead Prop: Mako Vunipola, England

    England's effort at the scrum helped in telling the story of their dominance there, thanks largely to the set-piece work of Mako Vunipola.

    It was younger brother Billy who might have been taking the headlines in his most prestigious appearance yet, but Mako didn't let standards drop opposite Ben Alexander. 


    Hooker: Dane Coles, New Zealand

    Running for 18 metres from the loose, Dane Coles made the most of his weak opposition and managed to get on the ball regularly, making good ground.

    The hooker's nine tackles were an impressive contribution for a front-row player.


    Tighthead Prop: Ben Franks, New Zealand

    That being said, if Coles' nine tackles were impressive, Ben Franks' tally of 17 is something altogether more out of the ordinary.

    Japan's best attacking assets didn't show the necessary talent in making their way past the All Black bruiser, who missed just one tackling attempt all game. 


    Lock: Joe Launchbury, England

    With Geoff Parling out, it'll be a race between Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes for the other second-row spot and the former can feel more secure in his inclusion following Saturday's result.

    Launchbury consistently offered his services as a carrying option and a source of Wallabies worry for most of the Twickenham meeting. 


    Lock: Jeremy Thrush, New Zealand

    Thrush got about his Tokyo setting with ease on Saturday, making six carries and eight tackles against the Japanese.

    More the best of what wasn't a very good lock bunch this weekend.

2. Back Row

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    Blindside Flanker: Chris Robshaw, England

    Lancaster may have fielded captain Chris Robshaw in the No. 7 jersey, but the blindside's more natural habits still shone through against Australia, outshining Ben Mowen in the leadership battle.

    Robshaw's charge-down try was a perfect example of his work around the fringes coming off and 14 tackles was the highest number recorded of any England player. 


    Openside Flanker: Sam Cane, New Zealand

    With Richie McCaw shifting to No. 8, Sam Cane got some more playing time at openside and maintained his strong attacking form, crossing over for the second try of New Zealand's match against Japan.

    However, it was the player's defensive assets that stood head and shoulders above the rest, a titanic 26 tackles being the main reason why. 


    Number Eight: Richie McCaw, New Zealand

    Billy Vunipola just about misses out on a Team of the Week place thanks to McCaw's work from the back of the scrum.

    One try, 30 metres made and another 14 tackles recorded all point toward a typically rounded outing from the veteran.

3. Half-Backs

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    Scrum-Half: Tawera Kerr-Barlow, New Zealand

    Lee Dickson, Ben Youngs and Will Genia all showed their glimpses of great play in London, but it was Tawera Kerr-Barlow who managed to make the most of his performance from half-back this weekend.

    The 23-year-old made 36 passes and set a good platform for the All Blacks' attack to shoot from in Tokyo.


    Fly-Half: Owen Farrell, England

    Owen Farrell's try showed exactly the kind of incisive running play that the young Saracen is known to be capable of, and it's impressive form such as this that's keeping Toby Flood at bay.

    Kicking both his conversions and another two penalties for good measure, 12 tackles for the fly-half only made the English playmaker's game all the better.

4. Backs

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    Wing: Israel Folau, Australia

    One of only two Wallabies to make their way into the team this week is Israel Folau, who yet managed to show some glimpses of his pacy offence despite finishing on the losing team against England.

    The full-back stood out at Twickenham and it was Folau's 107 metres made from 16 carries that put Matt Toomua in for his score in particular.


    Inside Centre: Francis Saili, New Zealand

    In just his second New Zealand appearance, Francis Saili was one of those to get on the score sheet against their Japanese hosts and star as part of a makeshift centre partnership. 

    The Blues youngster's 12 tackles were the highest of any All Blacks back. 


    Outside Centre: Tevita Kuridrani, Australia

    Just about outdoing Ben Smith and Australia compatriot Matt Toomua, it was Tevita Kuridrani's efforts on the ball that stood out more this weekend, helping to propel the Wallabies into having even a chance of toppling their English hosts.

    Two defenders beaten off the 22 metres made with ball in hand don't quite sum up Kuridrani's day, where he time and again tested Lancaster's defence with some dazzling runs. 


    Wing: Charles Piutau, New Zealand

    The only player to score twice against Japan, Charles Piutau provided a welcome distraction from the absence of Julian Savea and Ben Smith on the wings.

    Finishing what scraps were fed to him, there just wasn't a sufficient challenge against the All Blacks flyer, who thrived on the gulf in between the two sides at Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium.


    Full-back: Mike Brown, England

    Stuart Barnes gave his man-of-the-match award to England's Mike Brown and rightly so after the Harlequin utility showed no fear against Australia, running for an incredible 125 metres against McKenzie's men.

    Marland Yarde benefited massively from Brown's help over on the left wing and the fact that he made a huge 17 runs show just how involved Brown was in the clash.